The ex-employee menace: why companies need a security ‘exit’ strategy

What do you take with you when you leave your job? According to a new report from IT apps specialist Intermedia, the answer probably includes IT access—such as passwords to the corporate Twitter or Salesforce account, or confidential files stored in personal Dropbox accounts.

This data comes from the 2014 Intermedia SMB Rogue Access Study, which was released today. Based on a survey of knowledge workers performed by Osterman Research, this study quantifies the staggering scope of the ‘Rogue Access’ problem. And it presents a wake-up call for every business in the country.

89% of those surveyed retained access to Salesforce, PayPal, email, SharePoint or other sensitive corporate apps. 45% retained access to ‘confidential’ or ‘highly confidential’ data, 49% actually logged into ex-employer accounts after leaving the company, and 68% admitted to storing work files in personal cloud storage services.

‘Most small businesses think ‘IT security’ applies only to big businesses battling foreign hackers,’ says Michael Gold, President of Intermedia. ‘This report should shock smaller businesses into realising that they need to protect their leads databases, financial information and social reputation from human error as well as from malicious activity.’

> See also: Ovum research reveals growing risk of data breach from insider threats

These risks have both technical and procedural causes. In fact, one of the weakest points identified in the report is the lack of formal ‘IT offboarding’ procedures: 60% of respondents said they were NOT asked for their cloud logins when they left their companies.

The risks of ‘rogue access’ are endless. Disgruntled ex-employees could steal money from PayPal, falsify financial details in Quickbooks, or post inappropriately on company social media. Well-intentioned ex-employees might purge important files from their personal cloud storage.  And there are legal risks as well, such as the inability to complete eDiscovery or the failure to comply with regulatory obligations to protect sensitive data.

‘I’ve heard a lot of stories about salespeople who export customer lists or users who wipe all their data,’ says Felix Yanko, president ServNet Tech, an IT consultant and Intermedia partner. ‘For a small business particularly, ‘Rogue Access’ creates a huge risk: if something happens that affects their clients and they get sued, they usually go out of business.’

Three solutions to the ‘rogue access’ challenge

To help businesses regain control over access to their IT apps, Intermedia’s report presents three solutions. Organisations should implement strict access and user lifecycle management policies, including a stringent IT offboarding checklist. Intermedia has developed a collection of best practices as well as an IT offboarding checklist, and made them free to download.

> See also: Insider threats: the view from both sides of the pond

Companies should offer business-grade cloud storage that’s as easy to use as consumer-grade services. This makes it less likely that employees will use personal services that lack high levels of IT control and protection.

Companies should provide users with single sign-on portals. SSO portals are a fast-trending IT tool for a reason: they give users a single point of entry into the cloud, which makes it much easier for IT to manage and track access.

‘People want to work at home. They want files available when they’re travelling. But when a company puts this functionality into place in an organic, uncoordinated way, there are real risks they may not have considered,’ says Michael Osterman, President of Osterman Research. ‘This report provides direction for these companies to regain control over their cloud.’

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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